On the Politics Show, Sunday 22 March 2009, Jon Sopel interviewed Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary.
JACQUI SMITH: They will see a complete strategy to address counter-terror.
You know, it's the nature of this work, that quite often in the past it's been the sort of thing that's happened in secret, behind closed doors.
What we're completely clear about is that if we're going to address the threat from terrorism, we need to do that along side the sixty thousand people that we're now training up to respond to a terrorist threat, in everywhere from our shopping centres to our hotels.
We need to do it along side the three thousand police officers, now working on counter-terror, out and about doing that and we need to do it with international partners. This no longer is something you can do behind closed doors and in secret.
JON SOPEL: Okay. That's the publication, but what about sort of new aspects to it. I mean, do you re-define what an extremist is?
JACQUI SMITH: What we do say is that it is fundamentally important to our strategy to prevent people turning to violent extremism. That actually, we much more strongly say that our approach to countering terror, has to be based on shared values and that that's what effectively, terrorists are seeking to attack.
You know, values like our belief in democracy, in human rights, in tolerance and if those things are attacked, that actually creates a space in which it makes it more likely potentially that people can be radicalized and turn to violent extremism, so we do talk about the idea that we need to emphasize those shared values and we need to provide a challenge to those who attack them.
JON SOPEL: What is an extremist?
JACQUI SMITH: Well, what we're clear about is that those people who propound violent, violent extremism, are those that we've been working to - well, that's what we've been working to deal with, as part of the prevent strategy. What we're concerned about here, I think it's rather easier to define it in terms of what we want to protect and develop and that's why we talk about… (interjection)
JON SOPEL: If you're saying that you've got to tackle extremism, I want to know what an extremist is?
JACQUI SMITH: Well, first of all, I'm saying we need to tackle violent extremism, prevent people turning to that, prevent people from turning to terrorism in the first place.
We have a wide-ranging strategy that is already being delivered, with a range of partners to enable us to do that. We've talked about that over the last year. But we go further in this document and say that actually, what is at the heart of our counter-terror strategy is promoting the shared values, as I say, of democracy, of tolerance, of human rights, about which the vast majority of people in this country live by.
When we see those challenge, even if that doesn't over-step the law, well, we think it's important that there is a civil challenge to that because creating a space in which people are more likely to turn to terrorism, is one of the ways in which we, you know, I think increase the risk and it's one of the things that we need to counter.
JON SOPEL: A lot of people listening to that will say, well that's common sense. I mean isn't this a sign that you're not winning the battle of hearts and minds. The idea of shared values was in your first document, two and a half years ago.
JACQUI SMITH: Well, no, I think what we do much more clearly in this document is we say, these are the shared values to which we subscribe. Incidentally, terrorism is about killing people, but it's also about trying to undermine those shared values and therefore, talking about what we, as a majority in this country actually share and want to defend, is a way actually in which we brigade the largest number of people in attacking that small minority, who want to both undermine those shared values and more importantly for this strategy, actually turn that in to a terrorist threat as well.
JON SOPEL: Just on the journey that has been taken so far. Would you say that the threat level to this country is higher or lower now than it was at the time of 7/7?
JACQUI SMITH: We think we face a severe threat in this country, which means that an attack is highly likely. It could happen without warning. I think we have a more sophisticated understanding of what that threat level is. We know where it comes from. We know that we need to address it both domestically and internationally and that's an important element of the way in which we talk about our approach in the strategy.
JON SOPEL: Yeah. That's a very interesting answer. And so do you say that - I'm just trying to kind of get a sense of the grading of it. Do you think that, so is it higher threat than we had then or is it just a continuing level of threat?
JACQUI SMITH: I think it's. Well what we're much clearer about what the nature of that threat is. You know it's difficult Jon to say, you know, higher, lower; it is severe. It means that. An attack in this country is highly likely, it could happen without warning. I don't determine that threat level. That's determined by a pretty detailed analysis of all of the intelligence that we have, both domestically and internationally.
So you know, Jonathan Evans, when he was talking, the Director General of the Security Service in an interview that he gave recently, identified success, in terms of tackling the threat because we foiled plots, we think actually we are better at identifying and foiling those at the point at which they're coming to attack but actually, also identified internationally, a continued threat from radicalization from, as we say in the strategy, failed states and conflict, which feeds in to a level of threat, which as I say, remains at severe.
JON SOPEL: Right, let's just talk about extremism. Were the protestors in Luton, against the Royal Anglian Regiment coming home, extremists?
JACQUI SMITH: What I think was important there as that we saw precisely what we're arguing for, not just in the counter terror strategy, but I think more widely and that is when people want to undermine the values that the vast majority of us in this country share, they may not be breaking the law, we're not saying that they are.
They may well, and we would defend this, have the freedom of speech to do that. But we want to challenge that. Government, the public, parliament, I think we have a role in challenging that sort of activity, as in fact you saw in Luton.
JON SOPEL: And with the only arrest that took place being those who were protesting against the protestors.
JACQUI SMITH: Well the important point here Jon is, you know, and can I just say, this goes a lot wider than counter-terror, but the important point here is that if you know, it is not only about us using the law to challenge the sort of attitudes that might create an environment in which you then, people may feel more able to support violent extremism and terrorism. What we're also saying is…
JON SOPEL: I just wonder, under your new definition, whether those people in Luton, you would class as extremists?
JACQUI SMITH: No, well, well I don't think that's a particularly helpful discussion as to whether or not we class them as extremists.
JON SOPEL: Well I'm sure an awful lot of British people would think they were extremists.
JACQUI SMITH: No, I think what British. Well, I think what the British people want to know is, that we understand and will promote, the values that are shared in this country of democracy, tolerance, of support for the rule of law and that even if, and where people over-step the mark with respect to the law, we will take action against them, using the law.
Where people really act against those shared values, but don't over-step the law, we won't say, well there's nothing that any of us can do about it, we will engage in discussion, debate, we will argue about that.
JON SOPEL: The final question. You're pumping millions of pounds in to fighting extremism. How do you measure success, it's not easy to audit is it?
JACQUI SMITH: Well, you know, I think the fact that we've foiled over a dozen plots over recent years. I think the fact that we've brought people to justice, it's important immediate success.
We will also want to ensure that we actually, in the longer term are preventing people turning to violent extremism and supporting terrorism, that would be another important element of our success but we are world leading in the approach that we're taking to tackling terror, in the approach that we're taking to reducing the risk and working with the widest range of partners, in order to keep people safe in this country. And that's what the strategy that we'll publish this week, will build on.
END OF INTERVIEW
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The Politics Show Sunday 22 March 2009 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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